Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Electric field control of soliton motion and stacking in trilayer graphene


The crystal structure of a material plays an important role in determining its electronic properties. Changing from one crystal structure to another involves a phase transition that is usually controlled by a state variable such as temperature or pressure. In the case of trilayer graphene, there are two common stacking configurations (Bernal and rhombohedral) that exhibit very different electronic properties1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11. In graphene flakes with both stacking configurations, the region between them consists of a localized strain soliton where the carbon atoms of one graphene layer shift by the carbon–carbon bond distance12,13,14,15,16,17,18. Here we show the ability to move this strain soliton with a perpendicular electric field and hence control the stacking configuration of trilayer graphene with only an external voltage. Moreover, we find that the free-energy difference between the two stacking configurations scales quadratically with electric field, and thus rhombohedral stacking is favoured as the electric field increases. This ability to control the stacking order in graphene opens the way to new devices that combine structural and electrical properties.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Experimental set-up and trilayer graphene spectroscopy.
Figure 2: Spatially resolved spectroscopy across a domain wall separating ABA and ABC stacking.
Figure 3: Position of the domain wall as a function of gate voltage.
Figure 4: Hysteresis of soliton and modelling.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Aoki, M. & Amawashi, H. Dependence of band structures on stacking and field in layered graphene. Solid State Commun. 142, 123–127 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Guinea, F., Castro Neto, A. H. & Peres, N. M. R. Electronic states and Landau levels in graphene stacks. Phys. Rev. B 73, 245426 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Avetisyan, A. A., Partoens, B. & Peeters, F. M. Electric field tuning of the band gap in graphene multilayers. Phys. Rev. B 79, 035421 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Koshino, M. & McCann, E. Gate-induced interlayer asymmetry in ABA-stacked trilayer graphene. Phys. Rev. B 79, 125443 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Avetisyan, A. A., Partoens, B. & Peeters, F. M. Electric-field control of the band gap and Fermi energy in graphene multilayers by top and back gates. Phys. Rev. B 80, 195401 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Avetisyan, A. A., Partoens, B. & Peeters, F. M. Stacking order dependent electric field tuning of the band gap in graphene multilayers. Phys. Rev. B 81, 115432 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Koshino, M. Interlayer screening effect in graphene multilayers with ABA and ABC stacking. Phys. Rev. B 81, 125304 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Zhang, F., Sahu, B., Min, H. & MacDonald, A. H. Band structure of ABC-stacked graphene trilayers. Phys. Rev. B 82, 035409 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Kumar, S. B. & Guo, J. Multilayer graphene under vertical electric field. Appl. Phys. Lett. 98, 222101 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Wu, B-R. Field modulation of the electronic structure of trilayer graphene. Appl. Phys. Lett. 98, 263107 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Tang, K. et al. Electric-field-induced energy gap in few-layer graphene. J. Phys. Chem. C 115, 9458–9464 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Zhang, F., MacDonald, A. H. & Mele, E. J. Valley Chern numbers and boundary modes in gapped bilayer graphene. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 10546–10551 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Vaezi, A., Liang, Y., Ngai, D. H., Yang, L. & Kim, E-A. Topological edge states at a tilt boundary in gated multilayer graphene. Phys. Rev. X 3, 021018 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  14. San-Jose, P. & Prada, E. Helical networks in twisted bilayer graphene under interlayer bias. Phys. Rev. B 88, 121408 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Alden, J. S. et al. Strain solitons and topological defects in bilayer graphene. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 110, 11256–11260 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Xu, P. et al. A pathway between Bernal and rhombohedral stacked graphene layers with scanning tunneling microscopy. Appl. Phys. Lett. 100, 201601 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Warner, J. H., Mukai, M. & Kirkland, A. I. Atomic structure of ABC rhombohedral stacked trilayer graphene. ACS Nano 6, 5680–5686 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Hattendorf, S., Georgi, A., Liebmann, & Morgenstern, M. Networks of ABA and ABC stacked graphene on mica observed by scanning tunneling microscopy. Surf. Sci. 610, 53–58 (2013).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Castro Neto, A. H., Guinea, F., Peres, N. M. R., Novoselov, K. S. & Geim, A. K. The electronic properties of graphene. Rev. Mod. Phys. 81, 109–162 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Lui, C. H. et al. Imaging stacking order in few-layer graphene. Nano Lett. 11, 164–169 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Cong, C. et al. Raman characterization of ABA- and ABC-stacked trilayer graphene. ACS Nano 5, 8760 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Yankowitz, M. et al. Emergence of superlattice Dirac points in graphene on hexagonal boron nitride. Nature Phys. 8, 382–386 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Yankowitz, M., Wang, F., Lau, C. N. & LeRoy, B. J. Local spectroscopy of the electrically tunable band gap in trilayer graphene. Phys. Rev. B 87, 165102 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Dean, C. R. et al. Boron nitride substrates for high-quality graphene electronics. Nature Nanotech. 5, 722–726 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


P.S-J. acknowledges fruitful discussions with J. F. Rossier. M.Y. and B.J.L. were supported by the US Army Research Laboratory and the US Army Research Office under contract/grant number W911NF-09-1-0333. J.I-J.W. was partially supported by a Taiwan Merit Scholarship TMS-094-1-A-001. J.I-J.W and P.J-H. have been primarily supported by the US DOE, BES Office, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering under Award DE-SC0001819. Early fabrication feasibility studies were supported by NSF Career Award No. DMR-0845287 and the ONR GATE MURI. This work made use of the MRSEC Shared Experimental Facilities supported by NSF under award No. DMR-0819762 and of Harvard’s CNS, supported by NSF under grant No. ECS-0335765. A.G.B. was supported by the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) Director’s Strategic Initiative program on interfaces in stacked 2D atomic layered materials. P.S-J. received financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Economy (MINECO) through Grant no. FIS2011-23713, the European Research Council Advanced Grant (contract 290846) and from the European Commission under the Graphene Flagship (contract CNECT-ICT-604391).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



M.Y. and B.J.L. performed the STM experiments of the graphene on hBN device. J.I-J.W. and Y-A.C. fabricated the device. A.G.B. performed Raman characterization of the device. K.W. and T.T. provided the single-crystal hBN. P.J. and P.S-J. performed the theoretical calculations. P.J-H. and B.J.L. conceived and provided advice on the experiments. All authors participated in the data discussion and writing of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Brian J. LeRoy.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 886 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yankowitz, M., Wang, JJ., Birdwell, A. et al. Electric field control of soliton motion and stacking in trilayer graphene. Nature Mater 13, 786–789 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing